HL Deb 18 February 1808 vol 10 cc642-61
Lord Sidmouth

desired that the clerk should read the proclamation issued by two noble lords prior to the attack upon Copenhagen, and his majesty's Declaration. Both documents having been read accordingly, the noble lord said, that he rose to submit to their lordships the motion of which he had already given notice. The purport of that motion referred to the eventual restoration of the vessels captured at Copenhagen to Denmark; he would say, the eventual restoration, for it was possible that circumstances might arise which would render such an arrangement impracticable. It was not impossible but that Denmark might fall as much under the power of France as any of the continental. states, in which case no one would think of advising the restoration of the Danish navy; for to restore it to Denmark would be to place it at the disposal of France. In the proposition which he had to make, it was far from his intention to interfere with that incontrovertible prerogative of his majesty which placed at his disposal, all captures; neither was it his intention to contravene any expressed opinion of that house. Their lordships, by their vote on the first day of the session, had recognized the justice of the measure which placed the navy of Denmark in the possession of this country, and they had sanctioned and corroborated that decision by their subsequent vote, that no further papers were necessary. He was not, he would repeat, disposed to contravene these determinations. He was only acting on the principles of his majesty's Declaration; on the principles of the Proclamation issued by the two noble lords who commanded the expedition against Copenhagen; and on the principles upon which ministers justified that expedition, when he endeavoured to persuade their lordships, that the honour, the character, and the interests of this country were involved in eventual restoration of the Danish navy. Necessity and self-protection were the grounds upon which the seizure of the fleet of Denmark was justified. The rejection of an inadmissible offer was assigned as the reason for destroying the capital of a neutral state. We offered to take the fleet in deposit—an arrangement to which the court of Denmark could not possibly listen, without Compromising its honour, and exposing itself to the resentment of France. To this principle, he conceived, we were in honour bound to adhere. The offer of restoring the Danish navy upon the re-establishment of peace, was even made a fortnight after the declaration of war by the Crown Prince. But it might be argued, that that prince refused to ratify the capitulation, and that by so doing he had precluded himself from any advantages derivable from the proclamation of our commanders, or the summons previous to the commencement of the bombardment. It was certainly true, that that high-minded personage had refused to ratify the capitulation; but did it appear that he acted in any manner to impede it? We were, he would contend, bound to act upon that principle upon which we had set out, namely, that of taking the Danish navy in deposit. To this we were no less bound by honour and policy than by the strictest interpretation of the law of nations. He would, with the permission of their lordships, read to them an extract from the ablest writer on that important subject, and which, though an extract, had nothing he could assure them in it which was not warranted by the context. His lordship here read several passages front Grotius, De Jure Belli et Pacis, tending to support his argument. The conduct of the court of Denmark, he contended, could not be considered as hostile. The war began from us. We left the Crown Prince no alternative but that of war.— There was another reason which made him anxious that their lordships should adopt his motion at present. He had learned, that the Danish ships were ordered to be fitted out for the service of this country. He was anxious to prevent so precipitate and impolitic a measure. The ships, by what he had heard, were quite unqualified, or at least not qualified in the manner our ships were, for the wear and tear of our service. To render them so, would require an expence which could be applied, with far greater advantage, to the various ships now constructing, or under repair in our own dock-yards. But even if the Danish ships were in a state fit to proceed upon any service, he would still protest against their being employed. There was but one circumstance, the destruction of a great part of the navy of England, which would induce him to consent to our making any use of the Danish navy, with our present maritime superiority. We did not want ships. We had enough to contend with the united navies of the world. He could not perceive, therefore, the policy of fitting out this new accession to our maritime strength; but he could anticipate some probable advantages from following another course: he could devise no system of policy more likely to_conci liate the Danes, and to draw them, by degrees, into that close and friendly connection with us in which they were formerly united. It would also tend to bring back the emperor of Russia to his natural connection with this country—a connection which was dissolved no less by imperious necessity, than the rash and unwarrantable attack upon the Danish capital. He also looked, he confessed, with great expectations, to the impression which a resolution of such magnanimity, justice, and consistency would make upon the nations of the continent. He could not anticipate any act of ours which could be more likely to shake that enormous influence which France had acquired over the rest of Europe. It was by arming all the nations of the continent against us, by placing them in array, by exciting their feelings against what was called our tyranny and injustice, that that man, who now wielded all the force of those nations, expected to prevail against us. The destruction of this country was the great object of his ambition: compared with this, his victories at Lodi, at Austerlitz, at Friedland, and at Auerstadt, were nothing in his estimation: to accomplish this, all his great talents, his genius, and his policy, were unceasingly directed. What more effectual mode could there be of counteracting this design, than to render the instruments by which he proposed to effect it unavailing in his hands? As long as England should preserve her ancient honour, magnanimity, and disinterestedness, it was not to be credited that the nations of the continent would zealously co-operate in any plan to destroy her.— He would no longer detain their lordships. It was not, as he stated at the commencement of his speech, his intention to interfere in the smallest degree with the exercise of the royal prerogative, or to suggest any thing calculated to lower the country in the estimation of foreign powers. His wish was, not to bind the government to any measure inconsistent with the dignity of the nation, but simply that the Danish navy should be kept in salva custodia. His lordship concluded with moving the following resolution: "That it is highly important to the honour of this country, that, under present circumstances, no measures be taken with respect to the Ships of war now in the possession of his maj. In consequence of the Capitulation of Copenhagen, which may preclude the eventual restitution of them to the government of Denmark, agreeably to the spirit of the requisition referred to in the Proclamation issued on the 16th of Aug. last by the commanders in chief of his majesty's forces by sea and land employed on that occasion, and land employed on that occasion, and land employed on that occasion, and renewed in their letter of the 1st of Sept. to the commander in Chief of the land forces of his Danish majesty."*

Lord Boringdon

could not suppress the anxiety he felt to enter his protest, as early as possible, against the resolution submitted to the house by the noble visc. He conceived that a proposition more novel in its principle, more unsuitable to the circumstances of the case, or the interest of the country, could hardly he submitted to the consideration of the house. The external enemies of the country had pledged themselves to obtain a restitution of those ships; but he now, for the first time, had the mortification of seeing within those walls, a noble peer. rise up and support the arguments they had used, and in this respect aid their designs. It certainly was not within the walls of parliament that he had expected to have heard such arguments defended. It was not doing justice to the motion itself, to discuss it as if it were to be construed altogether literally, or as if the spirit of it would not go to the actual restoration of the Danish fleet; for if the house were to agree to such a resolution, it would be considered by all the World as an acknowledgment that we had acted unjustly, and a pledge that we would make a restitution as soon as it was compatible with our security. If we were now to give such an acknowledgment, it could be supposed that foreign nations would not take advantage of it at the moment of negociation for a general peace, and it would then appear as if we had no right to refuse it. The noble viscount had considered this as a case per se, and that there was nothing like it in our history. He might, however, have remembered the case of the ships taken at Toulon last war, which were surrendered to us by Frenchmen in trust only, and which were promised to be restored to the king of France. The French government gave every harsh epithet to this transaction; they called it perfidy, treachery, and piracy; and at the commencement of the negociation for a peace, required that those ships should be restored to them. The British government, however, would never listen to such *See page 221. a proposal; and the French ceased to insist upon it. If, however, a resolution similiar to that which was now proposed had been adopted on that occasion in parliament, the French government would never have receded from its claim, and those ships must have been restored to France. The noble viscount, however, under whose auspices the treaty of Amiens was concluded (a treaty which, whatever might be now said against it, he always thought and still did think, was proper under the circumstances in which it was made)— that noble lord himself did not think at that time that there was any thing in justice, morality, or the law of nations, which required that the Toulon fleet should be restored to France. There was another case somewhat similar, which occurred in the beginning of the present war with Spain. When the four Spanish frigates were taken previous to any declaration of war, the French inveighed bitterly against this act of piracy, as they called it, and yet they never thought of making it a condition of peace, that we should restore the ships and. dollars taken upon that occasion; but if, in either of those cases, a resolution had been passed in the British parliament similar to that which was now proposed, there could be no doubt but they would have demanded it, and insisted upon it. Besides, ill consequences would follow from pledging the country to restore the ships to Denmark, or in other words, to France. He must contend, that the act of seizing them was not an act of the character that had been described, but that it was an act of necessity justified by all the circumstances of the case. Denmark had, for a considerable number of years, shewn a hostile disposition towards G. Britain, and at the same time a sort of predilection for France, or at least an absolute acquiescence in every thing which that power did. This was exemplified, in their making no remonstrance when a Danish general was taken prisoner on their own frontiers; by their withdrawing their troops from the frontiers of Holstein, in obedience to the desire of France; by their submission to the Decree of Buonaparte, and in various other ways. If this predilection for France could be doubted by any noble lord, he should refer him to the very able dispatch of a noble earl (Grey) in answer to M. Rist, the Danish minister [p. 402] That noble earl, in the strongest and best-selected terms, had complained, "that the Da- nish minister appeared in all things to excuse or palliate all the injuries received from France, but to exaggerate in the highest degree every complaint which Denmark could have against this country." Was this the conduct of a power really and sincerely neutral, or was it to be supposed that a feeble nation, which had such dispositions towards the two countries, would resist the demands of France after the treaty of Tilsit, and that its fleet would be safe under its own protection? If the danger was then imminent, the necessity of guarding against it was apparent; and if the measures of precaution which were necessarily taken led to hostilities, England was not to be blamed. It was to those powers, and to those circumstances which produced the necessity, that what had happened was to be attributed. He therefore most decidedly objected to the resolution proposed; first, because he thought it would be acknowledging that we had done a wrong, when in fact we had done no wrong; and, 2dly, instead of leading to a peace, he thought it would shut the door to peace, by engaging ourselves, as a preliminary, to give up that which neither justice required, nor security permitted to be given up.

Lord Ellenborough

differed entirely from the sentiments of the noble lord who spoke last, and found himself called upon to support the motion. As to the cases referred to by the noble lord, as bearing a near analogy to the present, he must say that he did not see that analogy. He had often heard it said, that there was nothing more dissimilar than a simile, and he thought the noble lord had given an in, stance of the truth of that saying, by the cases which he had quoted. The case of the Spanish frigates, taken at the beginning of the war, was as unlike it as any case could be, for we had against Spain, at that time, at least reasonable ground of war. He, for another reason, never approved of the seizure or those frigates. This country had so much encouraged that particular sort of trade by licences, that he thought it unjust to seize upon as a prey, that property which was probably coming home on the faith of our implied permission.—As to the ships taken at Toulon, they were taken from a nation with Whom we were at war; and although, we were assisted in the capture by Frenchmen, who were adverse to the government then subsisting, yet there could be no pretence for requiring those ships to be giving back again to France, except that we entered into an agreement with Frenchmen in opposition to the then subsisting government, by which we engaged to restore the ships to Louis XVIII when he should be restored to the throne of France. It could hardly be contended that such an agreement, either by its letter or its spirit, bound us to give back the ships to other persons than those for whom we took them in trust. The case of the capture of the Danish fleet was totally different, as it was taken not from enemies but from neutrals. In considering the propriety of adopting the present resolution, he should argue on the ground of the necessity being completely acknowledged, although his own opinion of it was very different. If he were to decline however, stating what his opinion was of the justice and policy of the measure, he feared he should be thought to be, in some measure, coquetting with the house. He.should therefore declare, that, in his opinion, there was no act that had ever been committed by the government of this country, which so much disgraced its character and stained its honour; and, as an Englishman, he felt dishonoured, whenever the national honour was tarnished. He could not avoid reprobating in severe terms the expedition to Copenhagen it reminded him of

The ill omened bark, Built in th' eclipse, and rigg'd with curses dark. He thought the object it had in view was most unjustifiable, and that even in the success of that object, it would bring great calamity upon the country. When it was attempted to be justified on the plea of necessity, it should be recollected, that by that word was meant an urgent necessity, and not a mere predominating convenience. It appeared to him, that many persons considered it justification enough to say, that it was very convenient for the country, in this instance, to appropriate to itself that property which another, who had the right, was possessed of. This was a sort of doctrine which he was so much in the habit of reprobating at the Old Bailey and other places, that he could not avoid expressing himself with some warmth when he heard that principle urged as an ample justification to the nation, which never could be admitted among. individuals. As to what was stated of hostilities afterwards taking place with Denmark, he thought that circumstance made no difference. If he were to refer to the case so often quoted, of a person being justified by necessity in pushing another off a plank into the sea, it must still be allowed that the other was equally justified in retaining possession of the plank if he could, and that his endeavouring to retain it was no act of hostility against us. It appeared to him, that the right of Denmark to a restitution of the property so taken was by no means altered by any subsequent hostilities; and that this right was so clear, that we might make up our minds to the restitution being demanded at the conclusion of peace. He therefore thought that we should keep them in such a state, as that the restitution might be made with as little expence or inconvenience as possible. He was perpared for doing justice; but he would wish in some degree to exercise a penurious justice, so that the restitution should not be more burthensome to the country than was absolutely necessary. For these reasons, he entirely coincided in the motion of his noble friend.

The Lord Chancellor

said, that from the high respect he felt for his noble and learned friend, and from the weight his opinions always carried, he felt anxious to remove the impression which his noble and learned friend had made. The noble and learned lord had appeared to dispose in a very summary manner, both of the justice and morality of the Copenhagen expedition, and of the cases cited by his noble friend. He should however, take the liberty, on the former point, of expressing his sentiments in the same decisive tone, and say, that so far from feeling himself dishonoured, as an Englishman, by the expedition, he should have felt himself dishonoured, if, under all the circumstances of the case, he had hesitated to concur with his colleagues in advising the expedition. His noble and learned friend did, indeed, recommend a 'penurious' justice; for if indeed the expedition was unjust and dishonourable—if it stained the national character and was contrary to honesty, then, instead of keeping the ships in any particular way, and at any given expence, they ought immediately to be restored, and ample satisfaction made; but he was always ready to contend, and he believed the feelings of the great majority of the country was with him, that the national character had not been dishonoured by an act which the circumstances of the times had rendered necessary. He believed the country would feel that this great national question ought not to be decided altogether by the ordinary rules which governed the decisions at the Old Bailey; but at all events he should hope, that if his noble and learned friend was reprobating the principles before a jury at the Old Bailey, he would not forget, when he stated his opinion, to detail the evidence on which that opinion was founded. He could not agree with his noble and learned friend, that the cases referred to by a noble friend of his, were quite foreign to the present question. As to the Toulon business, unless we were entirely to throw aside the musty records of the law of nations, it would at first sight have appeared, that the French government might justly claim that restitution; for it was a rule acknowledged by all writers on the law of nations, that what was public property, belonging to a state belonged still to that nation, whatever changes might take place in its government. The capture of the Dutch prizes, in the last war, was somewhat of the same principle: we took them from the Dutch while they were under the absolute influence of France, intending and engaging to restore them when Holland should again recover her freedom. After that period, we made a treaty of peace with Holland, in which her independence was completely acknowledged, and yet there was no restitution of the prizes taken from the Dutch before a declaration of war. He mentioned those cases, to shew that the instance then before the consideration of the house, was not, as had been represented, a case per se. He considered that the resolution would be highly improper, as pledging the country to make restitution of what there was no pretence to restore, after the hostilities which has since taken place between this country and Denmark; and he thought it would be much more improper, as it would be an acknowledgment that we had acted improperly on an occasion, where our conduct could be strictly justified by the principles of self-preservation, by the law of nations, and the circumstances of the case.

Lord Holland

thought it necessary to recal the attention of noble lords to what really was the true question before the house. It had been considerably misrepresented and mis-stated. The question did not, as had been apprehended by the noble and learned lord upon the woolsack, at all intrench upon or in any degree affect, the prerogative of the crown. It was, whether that house would resolve that it was expedient that the government should reserve to itself the power of restoring, eventually, the ships seized by us at Copenhagen, to the Danes. But noble lords swerved from this question, and had gone to that of the justification of the expedition itself. He certainly did think still, as he had always thought, that that expedition could not be warranted but upon the ground of necessity, and no case of necessity had been yet made out; that house, at least, was in possession of no evidence whatever to warrant them in deciding that expedition to have been the result of hard necessity. He was not inclined at present to go into any exposition of the shifting, prevaricating testimony, which had been resorted to in defence of that measure; at one time Denmark was represented as sincere in her professions of neutrality, but too weak to act up to her intentions; at another, they were told, that as her sincerity was questionable, her means of annoyance were to be feared and provided against; again, it was pretended that the sole ground of the expedition was the secret arrangements of the Treaty of Tilsit, and when it was attempted to trace their alledged information to any authentic source, Portugal was at one period brought forward as an informer; and at another the disaffected Irish. This sort of shifting naturally created suspicion in the mind of every impartial man. The noble lord then proceeded to consider the present motion in reference to the question of peace, and appealed to the feelings of noble lords, if it would not be more for the honour of the country, if they could commence a negociation, after a voluntary concession upon their parts, rather than the subsequent degradation of a forced surrender, exacted by the stipulations of a treaty?

Lord Harrowby

defended the expedition, and opposed the resolution, which he considered would not only be dangerous to adopt, but improper in its principle. A noble and learned lord had begun by saying, that he should argue the question, as if the necessity had been proved; and yet he took occasion to reprobate both the justice and policy of the measure, in the most severe and unqualified terms. The only reason which he had assigned for departing from the line of argument which he himself had laid down, was, that he feared he might be considered as 'coquetting' with the house, if he did not let them know his entire opinion. The house might, perhaps, have excused a little of that sort of coquetting. The noble lords who entertained the same opinion that he did, might also have excused it. They might have applied to the noble and learned lord the well-known lines— Perhaps it was right to dissemble your love, But why should you kick us down stairs? It appeared to him most undeniable, that a case of necessity was so made out, as fully justified the expedition, and the possessing ourselves of the Danish fleet; but as hostilities had since broke out between this country and Denmark, in spite of all our efforts to avert it, he did not see on what principle, or from what precedents we could be called upon to restore what we had taken from a neutral, but which was condemned as the property of an enemy after hostilities had broken out. As he therefore thought the expedition just, because it was necessary, and as he thought the ships had been fairly condemned, when the power they were taken from became an enemy, he could not support a resolution which implied that the seizure was unjust, and which would, in a manner, pledge the country to make restitution of that which he did not think we could be justly called upon to restore.

Lord Erskine

argued at considerable length to shew the injustice and impolicy of the expedition to Copenhagen, and the expediency of agreeing to the noble visc.'s motion. He concurred with his noble and learned friend, as to the Old Bailey kind of necessity urged in its defence. And with respect to eventually retaining the fleet in our possession, it was surely impossible that we could think of doing so, after the declaration made to the Danes, in which it was expressly stated, that their fleet was required as 'a deposit' in our hands. Were We to attempt ultimately to keep them, we should act like a man, who, from the apprehension of being attacked by thieves on the road, should, for his defence, seize a fowling-piece from a neighbour, who was too weak to resist him, and afterwards point the identical weapon against its master's breast, and go out sporting with it for a whole season. His noble and learned friend had been accused of kicking his majesty's ministers down stairs in the debate. This he certainly had not done, for the former discussions on this subject had long left them at the bottom. He congratulated himself, that he had at least entered a solemn Protest against the measure adopted by his maj.'s government, and by that means had escaped the accusation of being a partner in their guilt. This country had formerly been the day-star of Europe. To her Europe had looked for an example of steady fidelity and honour, and adherence to the law of nations. If from this proud eminence of reputation, she should be hurled by the criminal conduct of his majesty's ministers, we should irrecoverably sink into the gulph of ruin and infamy, and no one would say 'God bless us.'

The Earl of Westmoreland

opposed the motion of the noble viscount, and deprecated the conduct of that eighth wonder of the world, the last administration, who having by their weak counsels, and total inaction, placed the country in a state of the utmost peril, censured the wise and energetic measures of his majesty's present government, by which we had been rescued from the danger. The necessity for the steps which had been taken by us was notorious. His majesty, in his most gracious speech, had declared that information of that necessity had been received by him; a declaration which, constitutionally speaking, ought to have been received without hesitation. This information was of a nature that could not be communicated to parliament, but, did it follow, that the executive government were not justified in acting upon it? If the executive government were restricted from acting but on information that they could communicate to parliament, the country might soon become like the wrestler, so beautifully alluded to by Demosthenes, who, instead of defending himself from blows meditated against him, was occupied in guarding against blows already struck.

The Earl of Selkirk

argued, that the question had not been fairly met. The motion did not go to pledge this country to the restoration of the Danish ships, but merely to keep it in our power, if circumstances should hereafter enable us to do so with safety. It must be a matter of doubt whether that situation of things would or would not arise; but to look to its probability could not imply a censure on the expedition to Copenhagen. It had been said, that the motion was only an indirect censure, and could not meet the concurrence of any, but those who reprobated the whole of our conduct towards Denmark.—The noble earl said, that in his own individual case, he found a proof of the reverse. He considered the seizure of the Danish navy as justifiable, on the ground of the notorious interest of France to make use of that navy against this country, and the notorious incapacity of Denmark to resist her demands. The expedition had, indeed, an appearance of deviating from the usual moderation of the British government, and, on that ground, he had felt at first a repugnance to the measure. But, after a fair consideration of the arguments on both sides, he could not deny that the urgency of the case, and the necessity of our own preservation, formed a sufficient apology for the aggression. Since, however, it was only on the plea of necessity and of self preservation that we justified the harshness of our conduct towards a peaceable and unoffending state, our measures ought not to be carried farther than this necessity required. So far from being inconsistent, the very principles of the expedition should dictate the adoption of the motion. The necessity of withdrawing the navy of Denmark from the grasp of France, could not imply any necessity for employing the Danish ships in preference to our own: it was due to the national honour to shew that the conduct of this country had not been actuated by motives of rapacity, and that the conciliatory offers, made by our commanders at Copenhagen, were not mere pretexts, which we intended to disregard, as soon as we had secured our object.

Lord Redesdale

perfectly coincided in opinion with the noble earl near him, that the present motion went to pass a censure on his majesty's ministers; and as such he could not agree to it. It had been said by a noble lord, that Denmark had been friendly towards this country. He denied the truth of this assertion. It fell to his lot to know that Denmark had not been friendly towards us. He had it on the authority of persons who resided a considerable time at the court of Copenhagen, that the Danes, so far from being friendly, had for many years past entertained hostile sentiments towards this country. They had uniformly submitted to every aggression on the part of France, while they never gave up any point to England. When almost all the other powers of Europe had confederated against France, Denmark uniformly resisted every attempt that had been made to induce her to take a part in the confederacy. When an armed neutrality was formed against this country in the North of Europe, Denmark was almost the first to take a part in it. And upon the late occasion, when we called upon her to give up the fleet as a deposit in our hands, did she not obstinately resist every overture that might lead to an accommodation? What other inference could be drawn from all this, but that Denmark was secretly favouring the views, and would not resist any demand made by France to get possession of her fleet. Under all these circumstances, the seizure of that fleet was not only justifiable, but ministers would have acted with the most criminal negligence, had they not sent an armament to seize that fleet. But as to any idea of restoring this fleet, how could it be done with persons who were in a state of open hostility with us? Was it fit to propose such a measure, at a time when the emperor of Russia was arming his fleets against us, and when the Danes themselves were leagued with France? To offer such a thing now, would be holding out beforehand those terms of accommodation, which ought only to form the subject of future negociation.

Earl Darnley

did not think that ministers had made out a case to justify the steps they had taken. They no doubt flattered themselves that John Bull, looking no farther than the capture of 16 ships of the line, would think it a glorious achievement. But they were mistaken, and would find that the people of this country were not to be so easily deluded. He condemned the expedition in toto, and heartily concurred in the motion.

The Earl of Mulgrave

begged leave to call their lordships' attention to the true state of the question. It had been stated by the noble visc. who brought forward the motion, that the measure of the Expedition to Copenhagen was out of the question; but still he had couched his motion in such a manner, as to make it neither more nor less than a direct condemnation of his majesty's ministers for their conduct with regard to that expedition. He desired the paper, or summons to surrender, No. 3, to be read, [p. 223.] which was read accordingly, and purported, that if the terms then offered were not agreed to, the conditions stipulated with respect to the fleet must cease. His lordship said, that after hearing that, he would put it to the house whether the whole argument as to the ships being taken as a deposit, and not as a capture, was not entirely at an end. With respect to the argument of the fowling-piece, used by the noble and learned lord, he thought it made directly against the motion; for the person whom his lordship stated to have the fowling-piece, attempted to defend it against his intended protector, and said, that rather than surrender it he would join with the person who attacked him; so, in like manner, the neutral who put himself under the protection of the enemy, became liable to seizure. The question of to night, he said, came at the very worst period it possibly could come. It was called on at a time when it was acknowledged, that even a restoration of peace would not do away the hatred of the Danes: at a moment when it was evident the emperor of Russia was anxious to revive the old system of the armed neutrality, which every one of their lordships might be convinced it was so much the interest of this country to resist and to destroy by every means in her power: at a moment when it had been clearly shewn, that Denmark was ready and willing to throw herself into the arms of France; and it ought to be remembered, that Denmark, by the late expedition and seizure of her fleet, had been deprived of the power of carrying her hostile intentions into effect, for she was not in a situation to replace or restore such a fleet. It had been said, by those who supported the motion, that we did not want ships but men; but on what data was this taken up? He did not think it necessary to enter into a detail on that subject, but would content himself with reminding those who used it, that the history of this country had invariably proved that men would spring forward, and have done so on all occasions when the service of their country required them so to do, but that ships were very difficult to be procured. On the contrary, the enemy did not want men, but they were in the greatest want of ships; and, therefore, depriving them of 16 sail of the line was of the utmost importance in the present state of affairs in Europe. If the arguments of the noble and learned lord were true, that 40 shipwrights could build a ship of the line in 12 months, and that from the number the ruler of France had it in his power to employ, he might obtain 100 sail of the line in a year, it was the more necessary to deprive him of all contingent assistance. The supporters of the motion did not, he said, condescend to bestow on him and his colleagues, who were poor weak men devoid of talents, the same portion of allowance they had given to others in similar circumstances. When the so-much-talked-of capital of Denmark was attacked on a former occasion, during the administration of the noble visc. in consequence of the court of Denmark having become a party to the armed neutrality, a ship had been taken. Did the noble visc. in his generosity, dignity; and magnanimity, give up that ship; No; she was taken into actual service; and the same circumstance took place respecting her, which had been so much the subject of sarcasm and censure in that house; her name was changed, and from the Holstein she was christened the Nassau. It was evident, therefore, that what was now found so much fault with in the conduct of the present ministers, had been actually the practice of their predecessors; and as he could not view this motion in any other light than a palpable and downright censure of the expedition, which had received the approbation of their lordships, he must give his decided negative to it.

Lord Grenville

denied that the house had yet come to a decision on the merits of the expedition to Denmark; the evidence relative to which had not been laid before it. If, therefore, the house had decided, it must have decided without evidence, from which, indeed, it seemed too willing to turn aside. The unwillingness to look at, much less to examine the merits of this case, was but too glaring and general. Even its warmest advocates betrayed their feeling of its real character, by their anxiety to rescue it from investigation, and to pronounce on it without evidence. When this measure was first talked of, it was attempted to be justified by the allegation of some secret articles in the treaty of Tilsit, tantamount to a stipulation for the surrender of the Danish fleet to France; and certainly that allegation had considerable weight with his mind, as no doubt it had with that of others. But the manner in which this allegation was afterwards sustained, the successive publications which served step after step to fritter away its force, speedily led him to the opinion, that the ground upon which the supporters of the expedition professed to act was utterly untenable.—With regard to the doctrine, that the unfriendly disposition of Denmark towards this country was a justifiable cause of war, the noble lord in the most impressive terms protested against it. According to the law of nations, the noble lord contended, that there were only two legitimate causes of war, namely, the evident disposition of a state to engage in war, or the actual commencement of hostilities. But in pleading for the Danish expedition, its projectors, aware that no one adequate reason could be assigned for their conduct, seemed to look for support to the accumulation of a number of small reasons. They could not certainly maintain that the treaty of Tilsit was the cause of their attack upon Copenhagen, for to that treaty Russia was a party, towards which government they professed an amicable disposition after that attack had terminated. It had been insinuated, that in urging this point he, and those who thought with him, were pleading for the enemy, while, in point of fact, they were pleading the cause of their country, and of their king, whose name had been used to allege that which the enemy had it in his power to contradict, and to contradict with truth. For, as it was now manifest, there were no secret articles or secret arrangements at Tilsit, as had been originally stated, to justify the Danish expedition, credulity itself could no longer attend to any such statement, after the conversation which a noble friend of his had mentioned to have taken place between him and the emperor of Russia; but if these much talked of secret articles had really existed, or been seriously suspected by ministers to have an existence, it would surely have been natural to look for some allusion to them in the Declaration of our ambassador at Petersburgh, when accounting for the attack upon Denmark. He, however, did not state a word about them; on the contrary, he alledged that one gentleman had for a long time reason to suspect the intention of the enemy to take possession of the Danish fleet, for the purpose of employing it against this country.—The noble lord explained the object of the motion, which appeared to be much misunderstood by some of the noble lords on the other side. It was by no means proposed that the Danish fleet should be restored under any particular circumstances; but merely, that in order to facilitate a reconciliation, and with a view to economy also, that it should be kept in such a state as to prevent any obstructions to peace with Denmark, by enabling us to restore it with the least possible expence and difficulty.—After deprecating the principle, that a state of war should cancel moral obligations, or that we should shrink from doing justice lest it should lead to loss, the noble lord proceeded to comment upon the consequences likely to result to us from the nature of our attack upon Copenhagen. So far from destroying, the naval resources of Denmark by that attack, we had, he contended, particularly by the spirit we had produced, contributed to promote and extend those resources. Denmark could easily repair the loss she sustained by the captures we had made. The ports and arsenals were still remaining, with a vast quantity of naval materials, which naturally belonged to her; and any supply she wanted, she could obtain without difficulty. We were not, therefore, to suppose that we had, by the success of our unjust attack upon Denmark, rendered the naval resources of that state much less formidable than they were before. The profit derivable from our iniquity was, in fact, immaterial, while we had created a spirit, and valour, and animosity to fight against us, which must furnish powerful aid to the common enemy.—The noble lord concluded with expressing his cordial concurrence in the principle and object of the motion.

Lord Hawk sbury

said, he would not, at that late hour, trespass long on their lordships' time, but begged their attention, while he made a few observations, by way of very shortly giving his negative to the motion. The argument of the noble lord who spoke last appeared to him to be involved in great confusion; but he wished to recal their lordships' attention to the true state of the question; and he thought, when he did so, it would appear that it was neither more nor less than that, under a pretence of restoring the Danish fleet, the motion went directly to censure the conduct of ministers, in the expedition to Copenhagen, of which their lordships had already expressed their approbation. If we were obliged to act against a power as we had been against Denmark, could any such procedure be carried on with more caution than that whole transaction had been attended with? We made them every offer to conciliation that could be devised before the army landed, and met not only with a refusa1 to enter into a negotiation, but this refusal was repeated after the army landed; and even just before the bombardment commenced, the same offers at negotiation were again made and again rejected; and they not only refused the very conciliatory terms that were offered them, but even declared that they would make common cause with our enemy. If they had shewn any disposition to negotiate or to keep on [...]amica terms with this country, there might be some ground for the present motion; but having acted in the very manner they had done, they certainly had forfeited all claim to such treatment as was intended to be held out to them. In this view of the matter, he thought the motion was extremely illtimed, and that it ought to be resisted. A case had already been made out, which, in the face of parliament, and of the world, would justify ministers, who, in this, as in the instance of Portugal, had rescued the country from an impending and most imminent danger.

Lord Sidmouth

replied with considerable animation. He felt gratified at the discussion which the resolution had called forth, although he must say that it had experienced, from the noble lords who opposed it, a good deal of misrepresentation. He contended, that the analogy attempted with respect to the Toulon fleet, and the capture of the Spanish ships, did not at all apply to the case of Copenhagen. In the former instances, circumstances of hostility had taken place sufficient to justify a declaration, but the attack against Copenhagen had the two characteristics of surprize and spoliation committed on neutral, independent, and friendly power. Madeira had also been alluded to, but it was out of all fair and legitimate comparison to make any such resemblance. The conduct of G. Britain, on that occasion, was that of a friendly power extending its protection to a weak but friendly nation in the hour of impending distress. In what fell from the noble secretary, there was nothing to convince his mind. His arguments alone went to say, that, because this country had commenced a career of injustice, therefore it ought to persevere in it. He felt the converse of the proposition, as due to the hitherto proud character of G. Britain, and with such an impression he alone came forward, unbiassed by any party hostility to his majesty's servants, to perform the duty he owed to himself and his country.—The motion being loudly called for, the house divided, when there appeared—

Contents 31, Proxies 20—51.
Non-contents, 61, 44—105.
Majority against the resolution..—.54.